Does the Sutherland example show a need for editorial oversight on reporters’ tweets?
Last week, The Montreal Gazette journalist Anne Sutherland made headlines when she tweeted (and deleted) a number of photos of nearly-naked protesters alongside some not-so-favourable commentary in Montreal. Now, Craig Silverman has reported that two sources have independently verified that Sutherland has been suspended from the newspaper over the incident.
This has raised the question of whether or not editors should have some sort of oversight when reporters are live-tweeting from the field. After all, while live-tweeting on assignment, a reporter is directly representing his or her news organization. The counter-argument being, of course, that reporters should know this and act professionally accordingly – the way they do while covering an assignment by any other means.
Though Sutherland promptly deleted the tweets, it is yet another example that illustrates the fact that the Internet is an unforgiving place where your mistakes live forever. The Quebec Press Council had already turned the tweets into a Storify (also embedded at the bottom of this story) by the time they were removed from Twitter. Julien Acosta, director of communications for the Council, told OpenFile Montreal that he created it simply because he was “witnessing a strong reaction to what she was tweeting.”
The entire situation prompted an online conversation between Silverman, The Globe and Mail media reporter Steve Ladurantaye, OpenFile social media and community editor Sarah Millar and OpenFile Montreal editor Dominique Jarry-Shore about the role of editorial oversight when it comes to live-tweeting reporters on assignment.
These questions aren't new and some news organizations have taken steps to deal with it in some situations. The real-time nature of Twitter (and the potential legal issues that go with it) was part of the Toronto Star’s reason not to live-tweet the Tori Stafford murder trial this spring. Also in that trial, some news organizations such as the London Free Press set up liveblogs that allowed them a layer of editorial oversight: Editors in the newsroom could pull in reporters’ tweets as they saw fit, and could then add context and other links as well as address reader comments in real-time.
Perhaps another thing to take into consideration in this discussion is the actually story that Sutherland was there reporting on. It was played straight in print: There were no offside comments or inappropriate inundations about back hair or protesters physiques. Ladurantaye tweeted a photo of the print edition of Sutherland’s protest story:
Here's the actual print treatment of Montreal near-naked protest, with the photos of some protesters. twitter.com/syladurantaye/…— Steve Ladurantaye (@syladurantaye) May 7, 2012